How do you usually see people with disabilities if you are not one of them? I once asked many of my friends this question and most of the answers were similar: “People that can not do everything as a normal one can; or people that need supported and taken care of.” While this attitude to help and support is definitely worth appreciated, it somewhat has created a limit in opportunities for the disabled to reach out for more choices and possibilities in their life.
However, there is someone who believes otherwise. Someone who is willing to challenge the limiting belief that there are just a few jobs that the disabled can do. Someone who believes that when we look at a person to their core values rather than just their physical conditions, the world will be a much better place. And it’s the same someone who went to Knowmads Hanoi Team 3 with a dream that was dying to come true.
That’s how Unbounded Space happened.
I have heard about Quy Nguyen and Unbounded Space long before I actually met her. At that time, I only knew that it was a project that aimed to bring the disabled and non-disabled persons closer to each other. I heard about workshops that happened in the dark so that there would be no boundaries between a blind man and a non-disabled person, or workshops for the Deaf to connect to themselves and share their stories through meditation and drawing (zentangle).
And then, when I finally had a chance to talk to her, it shocked me to the heart to see how consistent she has been with her project. As the story was unfolded little by little during the conversation, another Knowmad’s journey appeared as beautiful as it has been.
As normal as it can be, Quy started her career as a program assistant in a big organization. After a few years working there, she decided to leave that big system where she couldn’t really make a change and couldn’t see the difference that she wanted to make. Unbounded Space was founded not very long after that. She then found out about Knowmads and decided to bring her idea of creating a world that has no limits for the disabled to the program.
When being asked about a memorable moment she had during her journey with Team 3, she smiled as she started looking back. “It was in the middle of the program, when I had a chance to pitch my project to receive professional feedbacks from our external trainers. At that time, I was still lost and had no concrete idea of how Unbounded Space would be like. After hearing my team mates pitching about their projects, I felt that my pitch was so stupid and decided not to use my powerpoint slide show any more and do it differently instead. And I screwed it up. It was a terrible, terrible presentation. I must have looked like an idiot. Nobody got it. And when one trainer asked me, “Is it really what you want to do? Why do you want to do it?”, I collapsed. I felt super lost and had no idea of what to do.
But after that, Mercedes (a Knowmads facilitator from Team 3 to Team 6) came to me and ask, “Is everything okay?”, and I couldn’t help but bursting into tears. It gave me the feeling of having somebody at my back without even having to ask for support. It also made me feel I was being seen as a person and not as the mistakes that I made.”
Speaking more about Unbounded Space, she shared with me that the project’s purpose is also to create a safe space where people genuinely care for each other and look at each other to their core values and their own beauties instead of what’s outside. It also deeply synchronizes with her personal values of Authenticity, Truthfulness and Support.
After crafting her project at Knowmads, Quy enriched her knowledge by taking a one-year master program in Globalization and Development in Belgium and Rwanda, and then a one-year fellowship in Entrepreneurship for Good in Brazil and Vietnam. In her studies, she did research about people with disabilities and always seeked to apply all her learnings in developing Unbounded Space.
Up until now, the project has been about raising awareness among the community about the disabled and bringing the disabled closer to the community. However, Quy and her team are now preparing for the next phase of the project which is giving the disabled a practical chance to be really out there in the world. Unbounded Space is building a small resort in An Bang, Hoi An that will be run by people with disabilities. In our society, the stereotype of beauty is not associated with disabilities. With that sub-project, she wants to challenge such perspective and bring disabled people to the front-desk work in hospitality and tourism sector. She also realizes that to be able to do so, people with disabilities need to be well-equipped with both soft and technical skills to confidently show up with their own beauty and capacity.
To close the conversation, I asked her about one meaningful insight along her way that she wanted to share with other people. After a few seconds, the answer seemed so clear to her, “This is something that I have realized during my training in Brazil: Setting your goal and achieving it should of course be the priority, but what is more important is the journey to get there. Make it an experience that is meaningful and enjoyable for you and your team members as well. If I want to create a safe and loving space where people can be seen as their core values, then it makes no sense if our working space is not like that.”
Life is a journey as a whole. Everything happening is a part of the process to help us move forward in that journey. A Knowmads program is a journey itself while at the same time it is also a part of your own process in life. It is the part when you sit back and spend some time with yourself in a safe and supportive space, to reflect on this kind of questions: “Why am I doing what I am doing? Is it really meaningful to me? If no, then what is? If yes, then how can I do it better?”. And then, after having that sense of meaning, you can move yourself forward, with grace and determination, which is, I believe, what Quy is doing with her life and her project – Unbounded Space.
Unbounded Space is now crowdfunding for the mini resort in An Bang, Hoi An that will be run by people with disabilities. If you want to also support this beautiful project (and beautiful AirBnB accommodation), please visit: https://www.gofundme.com/theunboundedspace